Land transfer commotion in Jiribam

Jajo Themson *

For any infrastructural and other mega developmental projects, land acquisition is a cardinal part as they inevitably involve space occupation. It is one of the most contentious aspects where scuffles extended for a long time between land developers, social activists and the local population who are affected and the land takers.

Besides this, it is commonly associated with violation of rights over land and resource ownership, lack of proper consultation, issues of unjust compensation, involuntary social displacement or forced eviction and so on. Procedures involved in the process of land acquisition and its subsequent development are highly controversial.

Land Acquisition Act, 1894 governed all acquisition of land for development initiatives in India until the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, (RFCTLARRA) 2013 was enacted. However, Land Acquisition laws in India still continue the basis of LAA, 1894, a colonial framework which conferred power for forcible land acquisition. The LAA, 1894 is an aggressive law introduced by the British Colonial Rule in India in order to serve their colonial interest.

Apart from these acts, there are other modes of acquiring land practiced in Manipur called direct purchase or land transfer with mutual agreement between indigenous land owners and state Govt. Land acquisition of more than 1000 hectares for construction of Mapithel dam, hundreds of hectares in Khuga dam and about 22 acres of land for Hundung Cement factory are some examples of such direct purchase deed.

And still there is another controversial area of confrontation regarding land ownership in the post project era when the original proposed plan is failed. Land issues at Yaithibi Loukol, Thoubal district and site of Yaingangpokpi Police Station are some of the glaring examples.

Currently land acquisition tussle happens at Kangpokpi district in the proposed widening of Asian Highway No. 2, discord over proposed land acquisition and eviction for construction plan of Imphal Ring Road and many more of such anomalies are occurring in the state.

Among the various issues of such related cases, issues of land between the villagers of Mongbung, Sejang Kuki & Muolzawl, Hmar villages under Jiribam Sub-Division, Central Jiribam District and the state Govt. is one of the most contentious and unique one. The same is a wrangle of arbitrary transfer of land threatening the land ownership right in the post project epoch, which is the core basis of discussion in this article.

It was in 1981, 40 years back, Mr. Seikhothang Haokip and Lunkhothang Hmar, Chiefs of Monbung Kuki and Muozawl Hmar villages donated 600 acres of land in favour of Agriculture Department, Govt. of Manipur for Manipur Plantation Crops Corporation Ltd. (MPCCL) under an agreement signed on 02-01-1981 to raise Tea plantation with the promise of providing petty job opportunity to the affected villagers. Donation of the said land was made without any compensation.

After 23 years of good quality tea production, the Tea Estate becomes dysfunctional since 2004 either due to mismanagement or negligence of the state Govt. Therefore, being the project is defunct; the concerned villagers expect either alternative arrangement for their livelihood or to hold back the ownership of the land area in order to build up alternative community livelihood like rubber plantation or other economic activities for their survival.

However, in-stead of retuning the land to the original owners, Govt. of Manipur has undergone a series of transferring the mentioned land area. This sequential transfer of land was carried out arbitrarily without any knowledge of the original land owners. State Govt. in free hand transferred the land area from Agriculture Department to the Revenue Department vide Cabinet Meeting 7th July, 2014, this was later transferred to Department of Textiles, Commerce and Industries (DTCI), Govt. of Manipur. The said land portion was finally transferred to the Power Department, Manipur Renewable Energy

Development Agency (MANIREDA) for development of 100 MW Solar Photo Voltage Power Plant under the 15th Finance Commission, Vide State Cabinet Meeting at Cabinet Hall of the Chief Minister’s Secretariat, dated 23rd June, 2021.

Originally, the two tribal villages along with Sejang village donated the mentioned land area to MPCCL for the sole purpose of tea plantation. Therefore now, being the plan project of MPCCL has ceased and the agreed conditions have been terminated too, it is pertinent the donor villages re-posses the donated land. It is a clear stand of the concerned villages that any agency, corporation and Govt. department should not implement any new projects on the said land without fresh negotiation and agreement with the stakeholders.

It is apparent that no act of land acquisition and even direct purchase system of land acquisition can be applied in the case of Jiribam because villagers neither conferred land for sale nor in lieu of any compensation.

It was a free donation in the larger interest of tea plantation project just in the name of providing few job opportunities to the affected villagers. In all the populace of three villages, only three persons of Mongbung and four persons of Muolzawl were given workmanship as care taker in the tea farm. Employment to villagers as per the deed made in 1981 has been terminated along with the end of the tea project, so should the land return to the original owner because the conditions of the agreement have expired.

It is the claim that the land owners have every right and deserve to reoccupy the land in question. Arbitrary transfer of land ownership without consulting the legitimate land owners constitutes a severe violation.

Thus, it is true that villagers of Mongbung, Sejang and Muolzawl together with the President and Secretary of All Jiribam Tribal Union raised series of objection against the Cabinet decision transferring the land on 23rd June, 2021 without their knowledge. Memorandums were submitted to the Deputy Commissioner, Jiribam district on 28th June, 2021, to the Chief Minister of Manipur on 29th June, 2021 and the issue was raised before the President, International Human Rights Association (Manipur) and Coordinator, Myanmar on 12th August, 2021.

As per the opinion of the land owners, fresh negotiation and agreement can be made but, arbitrary transfer by state Govt to different departments without consulting them shall never be happened. Besides this, the issue of land alienation was even augmented when state Govt. attempt to install a Police Rehabilitation Centre at Mongbung village in 1998 without any concern and consent of the villagers.

This enhanced apprehension of the innocent villagers. Moreover, to the total dismay of the villagers, an eviction notice was served to the villagers in the year 2000 by the Deputy Commissioner, Jiribam District to vacate the settlers from their own land where they have settled since 1950. The same has aggrieved the indigenous community people with untold insecurity.

It is worth maintaining that land acquisitions in India are done in the guise of “Public Purpose” inculcated in section 3 of the LAA, 1894 as well as in the RFCTLARR Act, 2013. In US, property rights are protected by explicitly mandating compensation and used the term ‘public use’ which is defined along the lines of public safety, health, interest or convenience. On the other hand, in the United Kingdom common law system, eminent domain allows for land acquisition for ‘public purpose’, and this concept is applied throughout the Commonwealth countries, including India.

The word “Public purpose” becomes the most heated chapter of debate in India. As per provision of this section, if any piece of land is required by state Govt, it can be acquired in the name of public purpose without assessing the value of uses for public. It is this law framework that ailed the common people due to forced acquisition on the pretext of public purposes.

In conclusion, I would like to draw the attention of public for indigenous people concern that it is imperative land acquisition be based on the so called informed and consent of the land owners as per the section 26 (1) of the UN Declaration on Rights of the Indigenous people. Usage of the word Public Purposes in the Land Acquisition Acts needs amendment.

This very word in the Land acquisition acts has been a parasite through which indigenous communities who owned land and resources are continuously inflicted. Moreover, direct purchase system of land acquisition in case of Manipur is yet other venom for the indigenous people which incite permanent land alienation paralysing their sustained existence. It is an area of serious concern that the loss and damages caused to an indigenous people at a stage due to land acquisition usually extended through many generations beyond repair.

There has been heated debate in the courts that a property once acquired by the State after payment of just compensation and its possession as per law, the property belonged to the people. The “people” here means state or national Govt. However, such mechanism is not applicable to the land issues like happening in Jiribam because there was nothing of such compensations paid to the affected villagers.

It is a cardinal point of serious concerns that deed or agreement on land acquisition for any developmental project need to be specifically meant for one project and land automatically return to the owner after the life of the project. The same is significant for upholding the rights of the tribal or indigenous people’s social, economic, cultural, land and resources and their security.

Lastly, it will be a bad precedent in Manipur or elsewhere in the North East if the state Govt. handled land ownership free hand even after collapse of project at such cases of Jiribam is taken for granted.

* Jajo Themson wrote this article for
The writer can be contacted at thmsontezonge(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on September 25 2021.

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